The promises of freedom have yet to be fulfilled for many

James Skinner died recently in Ireland. The Guardian carried a respectful obituary on him, which is not unusual for this newspaper.

James Skinner died recently in Ireland. The Guardian carried a respectful obituary on him, which is not unusual for this newspaper.

As did The Manchester Guardian, it sympathised with the African struggle against brutal European colonialism.

Skinner was unusual too - he joined Kenneth Kaunda's United National Independence Party (Unip), ending up as chief justice of Zambia.

He made a momentous judicial decision in one explosive political case, ruling in favour of justice, not Unip.

Party youths were furious but Skinner stuck to his guns. The agitation against him intensified until he decided to leave the country.

Kaunda reportedly apologised to Skinner but could not stem the tide of denunciation against him, a deeply disillusioned, traumatised man.

A white man doesn't rise to be chief justice of an African country only to virtually flee over a decision he makes.

Skinner must have felt betrayed.

Had he embezzled government funds, he probably would have received a rap over the knuckles - nothing more.

But this is politics in Africa. Many former black supporters of the struggle have ended being similarly traumatised.

Another European, Richard Hall, whose sympathy for the struggle was so open Afrikaner miners on the Copper Belt called him a "kaffir lover", was another example.

Hall also fled the country over a serious disagreement with Kaunda, with whom he had enjoyed a special relationship, steeped in their mutual faith in the dignity of the citizen, whatever their race.

But did these people support the struggle from a mistaken notion that the result would approximate what they themselves believed to be democracy?

Colonialism was evil, with few redeeming elements. Around the world former adherents of apartheid have ganged up on the South African government, particularly over the abolition of the Scorpions.

Their agenda is to rubbish the Africans now in charge, suggesting in scurrilous language that South Africa was better off under white tutelage.

That proposition is so preposterous as to be demented.

But in place of colonialism in Africa, what is there? Nonracism anchored in worthwhile principles or a version of democracy based on a scarcely explored concept of African dignity?

The attempted destruction of our dignity was at the heart of colonialism.

All of us reared under colonialism remember the bile in our throats, like molten lava, threatening to asphyxiate us every time the white baas said Hamba lapha! or Buya lapha! or Voetsek!

At some point in their lives, all African youths, including those in Soweto in 1976, decided the humiliation was too much to endure. Rebellion was inevitable.

All over the continent old and young laid down their lives. All over the world, in fact, the oppressed reacted violently to this abuse.

Most are proud of what they achieved, their dignity restored, their lives more or less fulfilled.

But men, women and children fleeing their homes in the DRC, Somalia and Zimbabwe, must ask themselves: what African gene is this with such a fatal flaw it espouses the destruction of its own people as cruelly as they were abused by the Europeans?

The answer must lie in what we must all see as our just reward for the struggle. It's got to be more than the same degradation.

If it is not then ordinary people, poorer and hungrier than they were under colonialism, must now wonder if this is a peculiarly African gene at work here, something needing another Origin of Species to unravel.

Quite simply, the promises of freedom have yet to be fulfilled for many.

l The writer is the deputy editor of The Standard in Zimbabwe.